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Not a proud Aussie

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Today is Aus­tralia Day. A day that’s really only been cel­e­brated con­sis­tently in the last 15 years or so although it was around for most of last cen­tury (thanks to Anony­mum for pass­ing along this link on the his­tory of Aus­tralia Day, an inter­est­ing read).

Today I’ve seen a lot of peo­ple express­ing their Aus­tralian pride in var­i­ous ways, both in the real world and online. Nor­mally I’d be up there among them: I am an Aus­tralian in every sense of the word (I was born here, and both of my par­ents are nat­u­ralised Aus­tralians, hav­ing emi­grated from Euro­pean coun­tries as children).

But today, I am not wav­ing any flags or pro­fess­ing pride in my coun­try. Hell, I’m not even hav­ing a bar­be­cue. Today is the first Aus­tralia Day where I can hon­estly say I am not proud of being Australian.

Let me explain why – but first, unlike some other peo­ple, I’m not even talk­ing about the rise of this weird “yobbo” pride in the last few years, the god­damn awful South­ern Cross tat­toos or the “fuck off we’re full” idiots. While the atti­tudes that these peo­ple have is a cause for con­cern, I don’t think they are the problem.

No, the real prob­lem is the cur­rent Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment and its policies.

Cen­sor­ship is not the answer

censorship is not the answer

First and most heinous, it was announced late last year that the Rudd gov­ern­ment were push­ing ahead with their plans for manda­tory ISP-level inter­net fil­ter­ing, despite less than bril­liant results in the offi­cial tri­als and a lot of out­cry. A cyn­i­cal per­son might point out that the announce­ment came in the pre-Christmas rush and at a time when news chan­nels were dom­i­nated by talks of the Copen­hagen cli­mate change talks. Far be it from me to sug­gest that the gov­ern­ment was try­ing to pull a fast one past the Aus­tralian public.

I could talk all day about each of the things that they’re doing and why it’s the stu­pid­est idea ever, but this is not really the place for that. So I’ll quickly sum­marise for now:

  • manda­tory fil­ter­ing is a mas­sive waste of tax­pay­ers money
  • the fil­ter is tech­ni­cally flawed and will not pro­tect chil­dren from access­ing refused clas­si­fi­ca­tion mate­r­ial (the pri­mary stated rea­son for the policy)
  • the fil­ter is tech­ni­cally flawed and will result in impor­tant infor­ma­tion being denied to peo­ple who might need it, in some cases seri­ously so – think infor­ma­tion about abor­tion, euthana­sia, anorexia, sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases and drug use to name a few
  • the fil­ter will slow our already ridicu­lously inad­e­quate net­work speeds by as much as 40% in some cases
  • the government’s black­list is secret and it and the com­plaints sys­tem which will be put in place is open to abuse by those organ­i­sa­tions and indi­vid­u­als whose agen­das involve block­ing access to information
  • Sen­a­tor Con­roy has repeat­edly stated that only “refused clas­si­fi­ca­tion” mate­ri­als will be blocked, and that those things include child pornog­ra­phy, bes­tial­ity and sex­ual vio­lence. But in actual fact, by the very nature of the Aus­tralian clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tem, any­thing that hasn’t been pre­sented for clas­si­fi­ca­tion is clas­si­fied “RC” – so the­o­ret­i­cally, all man­ner of innocu­ous and legal items could be blocked under the “RC” ban­ner at the whim of the cen­sors and most Aus­tralians will never know about it.

So what can we do about it? The bill has yet to be passed through par­lia­ment to make it law (it has yet to be intro­duced) so if the Coali­tion and the inde­pen­dents oppose it, it will not become law. So Aus­tralians all need to get onto their local Lib­er­als and demand to know what’s what (as far as I am aware, the Lib­eral party has no offi­cial pol­icy as yet on inter­net filtering).

Elec­tronic Fron­tiers Aus­tralia has a list of ten things that you can do to help. One of EFA’s sug­ges­tions is to par­tic­i­pate in the Aus­tralian Inter­net Black­out, which this site has done this week as well as my per­sonal blog and our busi­ness web site. That’s the black infor­ma­tional over­lay that you might see if you visit the actual site (rather than read­ing this through RSS or Face­book). If you’d like to join in it’s not too late — you just place a small piece of JavaScript on your web site and it takes care of every­thing. Details on the Inter­net Black­out site.

The thing is, that most non-geeks don’t really under­stand what’s going on and as a result they aren’t as con­cerned as they should be. So the best thing that we can do is edu­cate our non-geek fam­i­lies and friends. That’s why I’m involved with a small group that will be launch­ing a mass-media-friendly cam­paign shortly.

Appar­ently, gam­ing is only for children

gaming is not just for children

Any­one over the age of 18 had bet­ter hand in their con­soles and PC gam­ing rigs because accord­ing to the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment, games are only for chil­dren. That’s why they refuse to sup­port an “R” rat­ing for games, instead ban­ning out­right any­thing that doesn’t fit into MA15+ range.

The South Aus­tralian Attorney-General, Michael Atkin­son, is block­ing all attempts to intro­duce an R18+ rat­ing for games (and due to the quirks of our judi­cial sys­tem, all state attorney-generals must agree in order for the rat­ing to be changed), despite the aver­age of a a gamer being above 30. What’s worse, he’s actu­ally brazenly called adult gamers “criminals”.

That’s not all

There are other issues – for exam­ple in South Aus­tralia, a law has passed requir­ing spe­cial pack­ag­ing and other rules for R-rated DVDs dis­played for sale or rent. The cov­ers must be black and show only the title – not other text — in small white writ­ing. All R-rated mate­ri­als must be shelved together. So clas­sic 80’s action flicks are being treated the same way as soft porn and there are so many prob­lems with this that my head is explod­ing just think­ing of it. The bill was intro­duced by the Fam­ily First party and we can bet they’ll be try­ing sim­i­lar tac­tics in other states soon.

All of these issues just show that the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment is out of touch with tech­nol­ogy and try­ing to leg­is­late the dig­i­tal realm the same was as non-digital media.

If we don’t do some­thing about this, we’d bet­ter find our­selves a new national anthem because the cur­rent one will not be accu­rate anymore.

Aus­tralians all, let us rejoice
For we are young and free.”

Young, sure. Free, not so much.

17 Comments

  1. Pingback: No censorship in Australia – The Word – According To Me

  2. Excel­lent arti­cle. I linked it from my blog.

  3. You could always move to New Zealand dude.

  4. what hap­pened to the on line peti­tion, it has dropped out of sight. Had link but now its a dud.

  5. Free, not at all, I would say.
    I’m dis­gusted that Amnesty Inter­na­tional aren’t up in arms about this fil­ter, espe­cially given its secret nature. Every­body has a right to know what is being blocked and *why*: oth­er­wise it’s not democratic.

  6. Top notch Kay.
    Keep it up.
    Nev

  7. I agree with every­thing you’re say­ing Kay — very well put!

    I would also add the National Broad­band Net­work (NBN) to the list of cur­rent embar­rass­ing tech-related poli­cies that the gov­ern­ment have. Sure the idea behind the NBN is great, but if they can’t admit their fil­ter­ing tech is flawed in more ways than one then I don’t hold much hope for the NBN infra­struc­ture to actu­ally deliver what it should. If they don’t deliver WiMAX to regional areas that cur­rently don’t have any broad­band (satel­lite doesn’t count — it’s appalling) then it *won’t be* a “National” Broad­band Net­work (FTTN and FTTH are obvi­ously irrel­e­vant when dis­tance is the lim­it­ing factor!).

  8. Hi Kay

    I think it’s a big call that this issue has caused you to be an un-proud Aussie.

    Surely it’s a good idea to make an effort to block all the nasty web­sites which fuel and grow the child porn industry!

    I agree that it would be very hard to get it to work per­fectly but mak­ing an effort will at least bring down some of these dis­func­tional web­sites. Should we just save our money, sit back and let all these web­sites go for gold? That’s like say­ing we shouldn’t waste money on a police force because so much crime goes un-caught.

    I think the cen­sor­ship is a good idea. The chal­lenge is how cen­sored do we make it. I might say go as far as X but you might say that’s too strict, but if you ask a ortho­dox reli­gious per­son no doubt they’d say my stance is too lib­eral. I think we need to put some­thing in place and set the cen­sor­ship based on democ­racy — some sort of vote sys­tem. God knows how you’d do it but we need to try.

    Just my 2c.

    Cheers
    Matthew

  9. Matthew — what you have to realise is that only a very tiny pro­por­tion of the mate­r­ial they say they are aim­ing for is dis­trib­uted via the web. And this is the prob­lem with the gov­ern­ment approach (or rather, them being clever) is that to the gen­eral per­son who has no knowl­edge of the inter­net, this all sounds great. “Yes, if we block the web sites, no one will have access to it, huzzah”.

    Dis­count­ing the fact that it takes all of 5 min­utes to set up a proxy to get around this fil­ter, and the fact that the fil­ter does not cover IM, Bit­Tor­rent or any num­ber of other pro­to­cols, it is a colos­sal waste of tax pay­ers money.

    Not to men­tion the lack of trans­parency of how the fil­ter is run — this is the big issue. Since it’s a pub­lic com­plaint sys­tem, what’s to stop a group delib­er­ately tar­get­ing a web site or area of infor­ma­tion with complaints?

    Who is going to pay for the imple­men­ta­tion of the fil­ter on the ISP front — I guar­an­tee that it will be all of us. Then we have to deal with the slow­down, and again, I guar­an­tee that you won’t be get­ting a dis­count from your ISP to com­pen­sate you. All for a sys­tem that will not work.

  10. Matthew, the web is the tip of the ice­berg when it comes to the nasty things on the inter­net — there are far worse things going on in via bit­tor­rent, FTP, IM etc but it’s impos­si­ble to fil­ter these things and not good PR for the gov­ern­ment. Hav­ing such an inef­fec­tual fil­ter will lead par­ents to have a false sense of secu­rity and that can only cause more harm than good. Not to men­tion that it’s a mas­sive waste of tax­pay­ers money and that money could be put to far bet­ter use in edu­ca­tion and law enforcement.

    How­ever, it is not my mis­sion to try to change pro-censorship views, because I believe that peo­ple who share your views are in the minor­ity and not likely to lis­ten to peo­ple like me any­way. It’s my mis­sion to reach all the reg­u­lar Aus­tralians who would be hor­ri­fied to learn of the poten­tial for abuse in the fil­ter sys­tem IF they knew about it — and by far, most non-techy peo­ple have no idea.

  11. @admin + @ Dave: fare points. I still think that we should be doing some­thing. It’s pretty poor to sit back and wave the ‘peo­ple will find a work around’ card. Per­haps even if we block web­site traf­fic this may sti­fle a poten­tial pun­ters ini­tial desire for harm­ful con­tent. Surely the major­ity of such peo­ple are not web savvy and get into the stuff by dab­bling at first. So if we can block easy to reach con­tent dis­tri­b­u­tion chan­nels such as web­sites we may have an impact in slow­ing down the growth of the var­i­ous “indus­tries” for this stuff.

    My point is that we have to do some­thing and I appre­ci­ate that there are so many pit­falls how­ever per­haps it will be like virus pro­tec­tion soft­ware. The 1st gen­er­a­tion of such soft­ware was basic and missed a lot but it improved over time. Sure, peo­ple are cre­at­ing and beat­ing virus soft­ware all the time but if we had no pro­tec­tion then our online world would be a mess.

    Do you guys have any sug­ges­tions for solutions?

    Cheers
    Matthew

  12. The solu­tion is not to try and stop it at the view­ing end — while what peo­ple who look at this stuff is dis­gust­ing and they should suf­fer the con­se­quences, the ulti­mate goal lies with catch­ing those who are dis­trib­ut­ing this content.

    Stop­ping a small pro­por­tion peo­ple see­ing it does NOT pre­vent it from hap­pen­ing. Would the money be bet­ter spent on fed­eral agen­cies and giv­ing them access to bet­ter equip­ment and more per­son­nel to actively police these activ­i­ties. I would much rather the $140m or what­ever it will actu­ally end up cost­ing (since when are govt esti­mates ever right) go the Aussie fed­eral police to expand their oper­a­tions in catch­ing the peo­ple responsible.

  13. Sug­ges­tions — absolutely. How about pay­ing for addi­tional law enforce­ment offi­cers, who can help track down and pros­e­cute the real offend­ers? Even 5 addi­tional full time fed­eral police ded­i­cated to online crime would cost a frac­tion of what the fil­ter will cost, and would be far more effec­tive at actu­ally stop­ping the stuff from get­ting out there in the first place.

    Then spend some more on a wide­spread edu­ca­tion cam­paign telling par­ents how can ensure that their chil­dren are safe online. Super­vi­sion and edu­ca­tion are the asnwer — things like not giv­ing out their per­sonal details, not agree­ing to meet with peo­ple they meet online and cop­ing with online bul­ly­ing. Address the real imme­di­ate dan­gers to chil­dren online.

  14. Matthew — I should also say, before this dis­solves into just one area of the filter.…

    Refused Clas­si­fi­ca­tion (RC) con­tent is NOT nec­es­sar­ily ille­gal con­tent. This is the big issue here — what the gov­ern­ment is talk­ing about is stop­ping the Aus­tralian pub­lic from access­ing RC infor­ma­tion, which includes legit­i­mate top­ics such as euthana­sia, abor­tion, drug use etc. This is what they do not say in all their bleat­ing from the pul­pits, and there­fore all the gen­eral pub­lic asso­ciates with RC is child porn, where in fact this is highly untrue.

    Any­thing that has not been clas­si­fied by the OLFC tech­ni­cally falls under the banner.

  15. I actu­ally like the south­ern cross tat­toos and intend to get one.
    for me it sig­ni­fies Aus­tralia as a free nation and with­out the union jack.
    major­ity of peo­ples ances­tors came on ships using it to nav­i­gate, ok a few yob­bos in the city might have them and be overly patri­otic but the tatt has been around for a long time, just sud­denly peo­ple seem to take a dis lik­ing to it, I’d pre­fer a tat that sig­ni­fies some­thing over one that is just a pile of ink, I’m a coun­try lad and have used it many times to nav­i­gate out in the bush at night

  16. Johno, I didn’t mean to cause offence, but the south­ern cross sym­bol has unfor­tu­nately been hijacked by the racist “fuck off we’re full” and “if you don’t love it, leave” brigade. I’m sure you can find a way to incor­po­rate a south­ern cross into a tat­too that means some­thing to you with­out look­ing like one of those losers — just gotta be creative :)

  17. @ matthew

    please don’t you the name matthew if your post­ing stu­pid­ity, my name was matthew, but now its not because of you.

    frank